NO, a wire is NOT just a wire! When you are wiring people’s homes and businesses the right choice of wire can mean the difference between a system that sounds OK and one that sounds spectacular. Just like everything else that is available to the buying public there are dramatically different ranges of quality, and thus the price for wire, that for the uninformed, look pretty much the same – but the differences can make or break a sound system whether it’s a basic stereo system, an elaborate multi room system or a home theater.
Wire basics 101 – The longer the wire the thicker the wire needs to be. Electricity flowing through a wire is how your speakers work. The electrical output from your amplifier is delivered as alternating current (AC) and so, in very basic terms, the amplifier has to push (positive) and pull (negative) the speaker connected to it to make the speaker elements move in and out and thus move the air to create sound. The frequency (the bass and treble) of the music signal is roughly 20 cycles per second to 20,000 cycles per second (we are talking conventional CD sound here, not Ultra HD sound, which transmits an even greater frequency range. More on that later). So, the amplifier has to send a positive and a negative signal twenty thousand times every second to the speaker in order for the speaker to play the highest note and twenty times every second to play the lowest note, plus all the notes in between and stop the speaker from vibrating when the music stops.The accuracy of this transfer determines whether or not that note played by the speaker is going to sound the same as what was actually recorded on the CD. I realize that no recording process, amplifier or speaker system is “perfect”, but the closer you can get to what the recording technician and musician heard in the studio or concert hall is what it’s all about! In basic electrical physics amperage, or pressure, is very important to the musical signal, it’s also very important when you need to “boost” the battery in your car. The thicker the wire, the more current capability the wire has. I’m not suggesting that stereo wiring needs to be as thick as car booster cables, but, believe it or not there are some very successful companies doing just that. For most home systems 14 or 12 gauge wire is usually thick enough. Note: wire gauges go “backwards” numerically, so a 12 gauge wire is thicker than a 14 gauge wire. The next thing to consider is the purity of the material that is carrying the signal. In most cases this material is copper. Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity only surpassed by silver, gold and platinum, there is a company that will sell you silver speaker wires…if you’ve got the money! Copper has one major issue for electrical conductance and that is that it is very attractive to oxygen. Think copper roofs on churches, nice shiny copper colour at the start but turns green and eventually black from oxidization. Oxygen does not conduct electricity. Quality speaker wire manufacturers realize this so when the copper is formed in the factory it is actually made in a vacuum and very quickly wrapped in an air tight insulator. That is what is meant by “oxygen free” wire. It gives you a better conductor inside the wire. So, for most living room systems a good quality 14 or 12 gauge oxygen free wire is all you need, however for a longer than normal run of wire, out to your deck speakers or wires to other rooms in your home, there are a couple of other “nasty’s” that come into play. Wires running through walls and wires of considerable length are exposed to your home’s very noisy electrical wiring and have a better chance of picking up airborne radio frequency signals (am/FM radio, your wireless, and your neighbour’s wireless router frequencies, cellular phone signals… the list goes on and on. The longer this wire is, the more likely it could act like an antenna, picking up these non musical, extraneous signals and passing them along to your unsuspecting speaker that plays them along with the music! How do you lessen the chance of this happening? Well, you could put your unshielded speaker wire in a metallic conduit, something that we do for a lot of commercial installations, but it’s expensive, and not something that you can do if your walls and ceilings are already in place! Solution: use an in-wall rated cable. These cables have twists in the positive and negative conductors at regular intervals throughout the length of the cable, these twists cause an electrical cancellation of most of the spurious signals that are picked up by the wire along its run. You still need to exercise caution when running wires through walls and ceilings but using the right wire for the job is your first step in making sure that your system sounds good. Another feature that a good architectural in-wall speaker will provide is a good quality outer casing, usually injected with Teflon, that protects the wire when it is pulled through studwork within your walls. The industry also gives these cable an FT rating, which requires that the casings of the wire do not give off poisonous gasses if ignited or smoldered. Did you know that regular old clear jacketed speaker wire gives off deadly cyanide gas if it catches fire!
Cheap wire is just that – cheap wire! If your speaker wire has 2 different colours, silver and copper, the silver coloured wire has been dipped in tin which conducts differently than pure copper. We also see aluminum conductor wire, made for control systems – NOT audio – used for audio system wiring. It is nowhere near as conductive as copper and has a tendency to snap if flexed, but it is CHEAP!
Contact us today! Wired 1 Consulting will get you the proper wiring for your next project. (506)470-7510